CD Reviews - January 2013 

by George Fendel

Big Bands Live; Duke Ellington.
The musical phenomenon known as The Duke Ellington Orchestra survived the ups and downs of the music business for roughly a half century. By 1967, the year of this live concert in Stuttgart, Duke’s loyal entourage was better than ever. Many of his players had enjoyed decades of Ducal employment. This previously unreleased set is just one in a large number of European concerts set for gradual release on Jazz Haus -- for the first time ever! Most of the tunes are Ellington obscurities, adding further value to the set. And most of them, typical of Duke, act as solo vehicles for his standout musicians. Titles that include “Swamp Goo,” “Knob Hill,” “Eggo,” “Rue Blue” and “The Shepherd” feature stalwarts such as Cat Anderson, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton and more. The recording quality is excellent, the band sounds great, and the material, ours to enjoy 45 years “late,” is pure Duke!
Jazz Haus, 2011; 73:41.

Biggest Little Band In The Land; John Kirby, leader, bass.
It’s been said that John Kirby was a serious man with a serious plan. He wanted a six piece group to sound as close as possible to a big band, and he wanted complex structure and, one might say, a complicated sort of perfection in his group. His concept may have never reigned supreme, but it certainly had its own identity. His musicians were “locked in” to what he had in mind, and what’s more, completely dedicated to it. These sextet recordings date from 1941 through 1944, and give the listener a clear picture of Kirby’s musical ideas. The 24 tunes here almost fall within the “three + minutes” requirement for 78 rpm sides. The thing that gets to you is the incredible communication between the players, who include: Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Russell Procope, alto sax; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Billy Kyle, piano, Kirby on bass; and O’Neil Spencer, drums. The tunes run the gamut from “Birth of the Blues” and “Blue Skies” to “Rehearsin’ for a Nervous Breakdown” and “Close Shave.” Nostalgic? Yes. But still vital and great listening? Absolutely.
Classic Jazz Records; 2012; appx. 70 minutes.

The Gathering; The Clayton Brothers.
Whenever a new Clayton Brothers CD comes out, there are a few characteristics one can absolutely depend upon. First, the music is going to swing and swing a lot. And then it’s going to swing some more. Second, the original compositions are going to have recognizable form -- there’s going to be a distinct melody line, followed by generous and scintillating improvisation, and then a restatement of melody. Funny, but in today’s jazz world, we can’t always depend on something so basic to the art form. And so, here are the brothers Clayton. John, the peerless bass player, composer, arranger, producer, teacher and spokesman. And Jeff, the disciple of names like Adderley and Hodges, “paying it forward” by constantly inspiring young players and one of the real human beings in the jazz biz. Their new album consists mostly of original tunes by the brothers, along with a couple of bluesy items, and two standards -- “Don’t Explain” and Benny Carter’s charming entry, “Souvenir.” The brothers are joined by trumpet and flugelhorn monster Terrell Stafford; pianist Gerald Clayton; and drummer Obed Calvaire. Visiting fireman include Wycliffe Gordon, trombone, and Stefon Harris, vibes. But the stars are the peerless sibs, John and Jeff. If you’ve lost perspective as to the whereabouts of classic, real deal jazz, this is your album.
ArtistShare; 2012; appx. 73 minutes.

The Jazz Expression; Chris Alpiar, tenor saxophone.
I knew Chris during a lengthy residence in Seattle-- he was a classmate of my son, Marc, and fellow graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music. He was a dedicated “Trane Head” through and through, then and now. Funny thing, this CD was recorded “a long time ago,” back in 1985, but released here for the first time. It’s one of those instances where you recognize the influence of Coltrane, but you know for sure it’s someone else at the helm. I might add that this CD brings to mind more the latter period of Coltrane, the searching, passionate period. As such, it might not be exactly the right medicine for every listener, but those of you who were especially moved by this aspect of the master’s career, will hear equal passion and resolve in the playing of Alpiar. His quartet includes Pete Rende, piano; Matt Pavolka, bass; and Bob Meyer, drums. There are only five cuts on the album; however, two of them exceed 15 minutes. For me, a more limited Coltrane-ite, the 11-minute “Utsukushi” was potent, powerful and spiritual. Let me make it clear that Alpiar has something very strong and beautiful of his own to say. But the shadow of John Coltrane lingers nearby.
Behip Records; 2012; appx. 59 minutes.

I’ll Be Seeing You; Mort Weiss, clarinet.
Every time Weiss releases a new CD (and this is his tenth), I come away feeling that the world has just been made a little bit better. Now Mort, who returned to active playing after some four decades away from it, has done it again! The numbers say a lot. One date in the recording studio. Five hours to produce 14 tunes with zero rehearsal. Each tune completed in one take and played by four inspired musicians. And it’s probably safe to say that the population of Round Top, Texas, never heard music like this until Weiss moved there several years ago, instantly becoming it’s most famous citizen, no doubt!

On this very happy CD, Mort is joined by Chris Conner, bass; Roy McCurdy, drums; and Ramon Banda, conga. As always, Mort and colleagues bring fresh, new life to celebrated standards, a few bop evergreens, and a blues or two. How can you possibly argue the inclusion of “Alone Together,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “You Do Something to Me,” “The Touch of Your Lips,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Pennies From Heaven” and more. From the bop shop, there’s Tadd Dameron’s “Our Delight,” Victor Feldman’s “Azul Serape,” a couple of Charlie Parker gems in “Blues for Alice” and “Confirmation,” and the old standby, “Bernie’s Tune.” Mort, who’s gotta be flirting with 80 these days, remains beautifully hip, fluid and fantastic on that most unfriendly of instruments, the clarinet. Hey, Weiss has a new record and the world feels a bit better for it!
SMS Jazz; 2012; appx. 70 minutes.

Partners In Crime; Chris Hopkins, piano; Bernd Lhotzky, piano.
What can possibly be better than one great piano wizard? Easy....two! And while Hopkins and Lhtozky make no secret of their admiration for stride piano giants like James P., Willie the Lion, and Fats (don’t you just love those names?!), their album of two piano duets isn’t restricted to stride only. There’s some Gershwin -- “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’” and “Someone To Watch Over Me” -- a bit of Berlin in “Russian Lullaby”; a piano delicacy in Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall”; and a medley of some of Ludwig van Beethoven’s greatest hits! But from the stride style in which both Hopkins and Lhotzky are acknowledged masters, Duke Ellington’s early period gives us “Tonk” and “Doin’ the Voom Voom”; and James P. Johnson’s “Jingles” and Willie the Lion Smith’s “Sneakaway” are winners among several other very engaging titles. Kudos to these two dedicated players, doggedly insisting that a charming, foot tapping, life-affirming piano style is carried forward. Their new recording will most assuredly brighten your day. And I think it has “award winner” possibilities.
Echoes Of Swing Productions; 2012; appx. 56 minutes.

Legends Live; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet.
Another of what looks as if it’s going to be an impressive list of previously unissued European recordings, this time it’s Dizzy in highlights of two concerts performed in Germany in November, 1961. At that time, his amazing trumpet prowess was featured with: Lalo Schfrin, piano; Leo Wright, alto saxophone and flute; Bob Cunningham, bass; and Mel Lewis, drums. Among these players, one can only wonder why Wright, a first rate bebopping alto maven, didn’t become much better known. Ditto for bass man Cunningham. Anyway, the group gets things underway with a 1928 Ellington classic, “The Mooche.” It’s more than 16 minutes long, giving everybody a chance to blow extended solos. And Dizzy’s couldn’t have been more inclusive and compelling. “Con Alma,” one of Diz’s contributions to the bop book, follows in its appropriately Latin attire. Wright then takes over the solo spotlight, playing flute on “Willow Weep for Me,” and then the guys pick up the tempo with Dizzy’s humorous vocal on “Oops-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be.” Dizzy finally gets his ballad feature, and it’s a bit of perfection on the Vernon Duke standard, “I Can’t Get Started.” Two more extended blowing sessions complete this invigorating live performance -- another Diz original called “Kush,” and an alternate take on “Con Alma.” This is what Dizzy and his pals were up to in ‘61. It sure sounds great and timeless 50+ years later.
Jazz Haus; 2012; appx. 67 minutes.

Dream Dances; Al Hermann, trombone.
No less an authority on such matters as President Bill Clinton said of Al Hermann in 1993: He is …”one of America’s foremost physicists, and an even better trombonist.” Answering the question, “How can such an outlandish thing happen?” is for another writing opportunity. For now, we’ll deal with Hermann’s stirring trombone sound, his ease of maneuvering around the changes, and his lyricism and complete control. To these ears, his very round sound is a bit in the Bill Watrous bag, and that’s not a bad place to be. On this recording, Hermann works seamlessly with the New Impressions Trio -- a subtle and supple group comprised of Curt Warren, guitar, Erik Unsworth, bass, and Rick Mallach, drums. There’s a delicate bossa feel to much of the session, with titles like “O Grande Amor,” “A Felicidade,”  “La Puerta,” “Dreamer” and “Love Dance.” To these sumptuous titles, add evergreens such as “Dream Dancing,” “Estate,” “Yesterdays,” “The Very Thought of You” and more. It results in the kind of CD that you’d like to put on the player some evening with your favorite “squeeze” and a little sweet liquor. In my opinion, “pretty” never goes out of style. To quote another song title, it’s “what the world needs now.” And this is very pretty music.
Summit Records; 2012; appx. 65 minutes.

Listen Here; Jackie Ryan, vocals.
You have to understand that I receive five to ten CDs by female vocalists per month, all hoping to be reviewed. They can’t all be great, and few are. One of the better ones, however, is Jackie Ryan. She’s very comfortable in a pure jazz setting, as evidenced here with a super LA sextet led and arranged by a master of the craft, John Clayton. The program opens with “Comin’ Home Baby,” a Bob Dorough tune which never quite moved me. She’s much better on standards such as “Gypsy in My Soul,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “I Loves You Porgy” and “A Time for Love.” A few welcome surprises include an obscurity once sung by Joe Williams, “Anytime, Any Day, Anywhere.” Note the Sweets Edison-like trumpet accents courtesy of Gilbert Castellanos; a couple lesser known gems from the Sinatra book, “How Little We Know” and “No One Ever Tells You”; one of Dave Frishberg’s subtle gems, “Listen Here”; and “Rip Van Winkle,” a composition by super jazz pianist Jon Mayer. While Ryan can’t be termed a steaming scat singer a la Ella, Sarah or Roberta Gambarini, she’s a very polished, “finished” singer who delivers a lyric from its core. To hear her with John Clayton’s brilliance shining through, is to hear a first rate purveyor of American song.
Open Art Productions, 2012; appx. 61 minutes.

Count Me In; Paul Winter Sextet, 1962, 1963.
In the early 1960s, it appeared that big things were ahead for alto sax man Paul Winter. In 1961, his group was signed to Columbia Records. In ‘62, they were sent on a State Department tour to 23 countries. And in November of that year, they became the first jazz ensemble to concertize in the White House! After the death of JFK, all the cards came tumbling down, and the band disbanded. It was a darn shame, as you’ll hear in this two CD set. Of particular interest are no less than 14 tracks never before released, including the seven tunes played in the East Room of The White House, November 19, 1962. In addition to their talented leader, the group included, at various times, such premier players as Warren Bernhardt, piano; Chuck Israels and Richard Evans, bass; Ben Riley, drums; and Gene Bertoncini, guitar. This two CD set includes 32 tunes, almost 2 1/2 hours of music. The selections are mostly original compositions by various band members, with a couple of bop burners here and there, and one or two of those “brand new” bossa nova numbers. Of particular interest to me were two choices from the writing of trombonist Tom McIntosh. “The Cupbearers” and “With Malice Toward None” are stirring melodies, and both of have withstood the test of time. Eventually, Winter moved far from the jazz world and pretty much exclusively into the arena of Eastern, meditative World music. It was jazzdom’s loss. But if you’re curious as to what he was up to long ago, this music holds up extremely well.
Living Music; 2012; two CDs: 65:35 and 75:00.

Jazz For Svetlana; Bob Arthurs, trumpet and vocals; Steve Lamanttina, guitar.
There’s an interesting history to this record. It started out as a surprise birthday present for a fan of this sophisticated duo. “Svetlana” loved the gift, and immediately suggested that it be shared as a commercially available recording. And so here it is.There are nine very nice trumpet-guitar duets, each completed in one take. Arthurs and Lamanttina have enjoyed a collaboration for some 10 years, so it’s easy to understand just why this music sounds so completely “unforced” and, if you will, real. Arthurs contributes two originals in “Lonnie’s Blues” and “Stellar Probe.” Other than that, well, you’ll know ‘em all. How about “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “All of Me,” “Birk’s Works,” “I Thought about You,” “Night In Tunisia,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Does anybody out there remember Jackie Gleason’s lovely theme song, “Melancholy Serenade”? Well, Gleason wrote it, and you’ll remember it with appropriate nostalgia when you hear it played by Arthurs and Lamanttina. Just to keep the record straight, Arthurs adds vocal chouses in a hip, casual, musicianly manner on “All of Me” and “I Thought About You.” No gimmickry here. No flash and no extra frosting on this cake. Just two fine musicians in close communication. Records like this need to “just happen” more often.
Self-Produced; 2012; 51:56.

Airegin Revisited; Hal Galper, piano.
There’s some real deep, thoughtful stuff going on here. Right off the bat, it seems that Hal Galper has taken a turn in the road since his more straight ahead days on the Concord label. His music is more angular, with increased emphasis on creative and sometimes complex improvisation and less attention to melody. I gotta admit, it’s often compelling listening. However, I had to work pretty hard to get to it. Take the opener, Gershwin’s classic “Embraceable You.” Not until the tune enters its last chorus do we “know for sure” what it is! But give Galper kudos for his bullseye communication with his veteran playing mates, Jeff Johnson, bass, and John Bishop, drums. These guys “read” one another eerily well. It’s just that the music often approaches the avant garde where sometimes the sound takes precedence over the melody. The other familiar tunes on the disc were George Shearing’s “Conception” and Sonny Rollins’ classic, “Airegin.” The former is played from every angle, completely “undressed” and thoroughly examined. But charming lyricism is nowhere to be found. The Rollins’ gem is also given a completely new approach. The virtuosic playing is something to behold, but when does it swing? Or, does that simply not matter anymore? Galper is often an absolutely riveting piano presence, and his trio is as tight and together as nearly anyone’s. There’s just too many ingredients in this soup for me to digest it all.
Origin; 2012; appx. 68 minutes.

Still Light At Night; Patricia Julien, flute.
I’ve never tried to represent myself as a wildly enthusiastic flute fan. I even get impatient now and then when a great saxophone player doubles on flute. But, with subtlety and in just the right places, the flute can be an occasional total groove in a jazz context. This, however, is not one of those places. Oh, Julien gives you just what you want in a flute soloist. Very pretty and poignant; light as a feather; somehow airy and “out-doorsy.” But what’s missing here is that Julien’s colleagues on guitar, bass and drums take a very contemporary approach. The guitar, for example, has that tinny, over-amplified “rock sound,” as opposed to what we generally have in mind in a jazz context. You know, Burrell, Montgomery, Hall or Josh Breakstone, to name a few. To these ears, the guitarist is a rock musician giving it his best effort to play jazz. To state it simply, it just doesn’t work. All the songs are originals, and a few actually swing; others have a rarified, distant sort of connectedness. And, if she’s capable of it, I’d love to hear Julien play some straight ahead jazz. But this CD misses the mark due to its insistence on putting the beautiful and delicate flute in a setting that is way too contemporary.
Self-Produced; 2012; appx. 49 minutes.

Bloom; Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra.
Born in Japan 36 years ago, Kakitani has gathered some gifted Brooklyn area musicians into a big band which, at least on this CD, performs an exclusive menu of Kakitani’s compositions. “I try to capture the scenes feelings, smells, temperatures, colors, laughs and tears of our life,” she says. And on listening, one hears the music soaring at one moment, and contemplative, shimmering or delicate the next. Certainly New York’s music history is the story of one top tier jazz orchestra after another. And now we may add Kakitani’s ensemble to that list. Her concept often involves the composition of complex melody lines with a great deal of movement. As with any great jazz orchestra, this is followed by generous improvisational work from a solid crew of confident players. Now and then, today’s big bands seem to sacrifice swing in favor of statement. Not so here. Kakitani’s orchestra swings with scintillating authority and makes a statement as a modern day big band that’s playing in the tradition and looking to the future as well.
Self-Produced; 2012; appx. 66 minutes.

Lost Tapes, Baden-Baden - June 23, 1958; Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone.
Forgive me if I can’t contain myself when a newly discovered Zoot Sims disc is introduced. Zoot occupies the top spot for me, my favorite swinging saxophone, bar none. Another in what appears will be a long, ongoing series of newly released recordings, this is a jam featuring Sims along with numerous European players, but not every guy on every tune. At the time of this recording, the “guy” on tenor on the other side of the pond was Hans Koller, a reedman in the Zoot camp. Along with a host of very swinging German players, we also find two expatriate Americans: Willie Dennis on trombone and Kenny Clarke on drums. Both Sims and Keller play alto, tenor and clarinet. But in the true spirit of a jam session, they don’t play on all 11 tracks. Both appear on seven tunes, but not the same seven, if you can follow that. The familiar fare heard here includes “All the Things You Are,” “Allen’s Alley,” “I Surrender Dear,” “Tangerine,” “These Foolish Things” and “I’ll Remember April.” The pianist on the date, Hans Hammerschmid, contributes several additional nicely swinging vehicles. well suited for a blowing session such as this. But clearly, Zoot’s the man. Like a power forward looking for a hoop, Zoot was always there when there was a gig. And when there was a gig, he was always there.
Jazz Haus; 2012; appx. 53 minutes.

A Little Sugar; Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band.
Here for your enjoyment is a program of songs from the 1920s. But don’t look for the “Betty Boop” singer in a pure period piece. This may bring to mind the singer in a fancy gown with too many feathers in her glamorous but gaudy hat, but Roberta Donnay’s interpretations of these colorful tunes are anything but cutesy. Some are a bit naughty and others oddly innocent. And the Prohibition Mob Band, armed with saucy arrangements which are never shlocky or overly vanilla, make for a perfect fit. These are the songs associated with or written by Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and even one I remember first hearing on a very urban blues record by, of all people, Odetta! Some of these tunes became hits and others remain less familiar to this day. So we go from “Say It Isn’t So” to “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show”; from “Rocking Chair” to “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon”; and from “You Go to My Head” and “Sugar Blues” to “I Want a Little Sugar In My Bowl” and “Empty Bed Blues.” Donnay approaches these songs with authenticity and complete respect, avoiding any temptation for coyness or anything extraneous. And I guess that’s why I really liked this record!
Motema; 2012; appx. 50 minutes.


Further To Fly; Wave Mechanics Union.
I would guess I’d be better able to understand the lyrics to these songs if I had been familiar with the originals by such names Ben Folds, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Dire Straits and Queen -- all rock and roll people of whom I have zero knowledge. The fact that this music is played by a big band lends some musical validity to it. And probably a lot more than the original versions had. Still, I’m of the opinion that rock and jazz are better off traveling separate highways.
HX Music; 2012; 66:28.

Live Work And Play; Caroline Davis, alto saxophone.
Gaining in status within Chicago’s busy jazz scene is Caroline Davis, an alto saxophone player whose debut album is impressive. Her colleagues on guitar, bass and drums, work seamlessly with her on eight originals (six of which are hers) and two gifts from Billy Strayhorn and Charlie Parker -- “Bloodcount” and “Cheryl.” Davis is a confident player whose strong sense of tradition works hand in hand with a forward thinking approach.
Eyes And Ears Records; 2012; 55:00.

Songs In The Key of Love; Nancy Osborne, vocals.
Now here’s a singer who combines pin-point intonation, clear enunciation and an upbeat, sincere style. Not boppy or scatty, Osborne is sure a fine singer of quality songs. She’s smart enough not to over-decorate them. They’re so good, they don’t need someone to reinvent them. including “Tenderly,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Mean to Me,” “Speak Low” and my personal fave, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life.” Singers of quality songs, though not always easy to find, are still among us. Just listen to Osborne.
Self-Produced; 2012; appx. 51 minutes.

Hudson City Suite; Scott Healy, piano, leader, composer.
A long-time contributor to the Conan O’Brien television show, Healy shows his “other side” in a suite of original music which makes for both intriguing and compelling listening. With a 10-piece “small big band” of two trumpets, two trombones, three saxes and rhythm section, Los Angeles-based Healy gives us a beautifully constructed menu of nine originals that showcase the vitality and chops of some hand-picked LA musicians With Ellington as his model, Healy has created a stirring, concert-like set. Highly recommended!
Hudson City Records; 2012; 56:16.